Media Policy Watch, April 2017

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The Obama administration’s Open.gov initiative, archived at open.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov

By Rose Kaplan

The Trump administration signed a bill canceling federal privacy protections for broadband users earlier this month, then a few weeks later asserted its own privacy, announcing it will not release White House visitor logs.

As Recode’s Tony Romm explains, the bill blocked implementation of Obama-era FCC rules that “would have required [ISP’s like AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon] to ask permission before selling sensitive customer data, like web-browsing histories, to advertisers and other third parties.”

Trump staff framed the move [to keep White House visitor logs private] in terms of individual privacy, describing “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually,” as quoted by Tim Cushing for TechDirt.

Trump’s decision to keep White House visitor logs private also breaks with the previous administration, ending Obama’s Open.gov initiative (see screenshot above), which in addition to WH visitor records also hosted staff financial disclosures, salaries, and appointments. Trump staff framed the move in terms of individual privacy, describing “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually,” as quoted by Tim Cushing for TechDirt.

Public Knowledge outlines some of the concerns raised by the European Union in specific response to Trump’s anti-privacy bill, w.r.t. online information exchange between the United States and Europe, which has much stricter laws around personal data. Public Knowledge’s Melanie Penagos was also in Europe for RightsCon 2017 and posted a Storify of her thoughts on the state of digital rights today as gleaned from the conference:


With Obama-era FCC privacy rules undone, many report that Ajit Pai’s new FCC is now turning its attention towards rollbacks of internet freedom policies — i.e., Net Neutrality. Last week, Benton Foundation’s Robbie McBeath posted an overview of the FCC’s plans in this arena: shortly, to overturn the very recent reclassification of broadband internet as a Title II telecommunications service that led the way for last summer’s Net Neutrality rules. Vice Motherboard’s Radio Motherboard also spoke with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the only Democrat on the Commission, in an in-depth interview on the future of internet privacy and freedom:

Vice Motherboard’s Motherboard Sam Gustin and Jason Koebler interview Mignon Clyburn for Radio Motherboard

Finally, two interesting stories that reflect the current state of broadband competition, media consolidation, and municipally owned internet providers: Motherboard’s Jason Koebler reports on the latest developments in Tennessee, where Chattanooga famously owns and provides its citizens with the fastest, most affordable internet in the United States. EPB, the city-owned power and communications company that manages the network, wants to build it out in order to reach surrounding rural areas, where most residents lack broadband of any kind, and has offered to do so at no public cost. Instead, Tennessee’s legislature has voted to give Comcast and AT&T a $45 million tax break to provide a more expensive service that is 1000 times slower (DSL).

The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium would invest in projects that “strengthen public-interest journalism, advance research and innovation in the media field, develop and deploy civic technology, and promote civic engagement,” News Voices’ Mike Rispoli writes.

In New Jersey, local and community media supporters are advocating for the creation of a new New Jersey Civic Information Consortium with the money from a windfall $300+ million auction of the State’s old public-media properties — WNJN in Montclair and WNJT in Trenton. The Consortium, a collaborative effort of four local universities, would invest in projects that “strengthen public-interest journalism, advance research and innovation in the media field, develop and deploy civic technology, and promote civic engagement,” News Voices’ Mike Rispoli writes. As the old-media die-off continues, the fates of small, independent, local, and community media/journalism projects could lie in similarly creative reuse/resale of other still-valuable traditional media assets.

proposal for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium

That’s it for April! Stay tuned for next month’s Media Policy Watch, check out our member benefits (sliding-scale registration!), and subscribe to The ALLIANCE’s eBulletin to get Media Policy Watch in your inbox every month: